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Smarter and greener

Home-A-Rama returns as builders anticipate market resurgence in 2012

Don Farinelli's iPad has become an business tool and inspired his firm's project for the 2011 Home-A-Rama showcase. Automated features in the Cumberland County-based Farinelli Construction Inc. home can be controlled by an iPad. Photo/Amy Spangler

A home that responds to every tap, slide and touch on an iPad might sound too good to be true for Central Pennsylvania.
But with the explosive growth of hand-held technology, the future of a computer-linked home is here, said Don Farinelli, president of Cumberland County-based Farinelli Construction Inc., which is building such a home for the 2011 Home-A-Rama showcase.

Seven companies are building high-end homes in Upper Allen Township’s Winding Hills development as part of Home-A-Rama, a home builders’ showcase returning after a 10-year hiatus. The other builders are:

While the event that culminates in a June 11-26 viewing of the homes is designed to generate interest in new homes and local companies, it’s also meant to be a prelude to what some builders and real estate agents see as the inevitable resurgence of new-home sales in 2012, they said.

“Home-A-Rama has always been a high-end product,” Farinelli said, “but what we were concerned about was building a high-end product that was sensitive to the difficult times.”

In that regard, the company went all-out on green elements for its 4,700-square-foot house on Jonagold Circle in the Braeburn Estates section of Winding Hills. Those include a dual-source heating system that uses natural gas and electric geothermal heat pumps to save money based on the market, large high-end windows that block heat transfer while allowing natural light to reduce electricity use, blown cellulose insulation for increased efficiency, and an energy recovery system that saves heat and purifies the air.

The home includes custom woodwork and tile throughout, as well as natural stone facings and landscaping, and is priced between $950,000 and $1.1 million.

Farinelli said he initially was anxious about building such a luxury home in a slow housing market, but this was a chance to get out in the public eye.

“This stimulates the entire industry, not just the seven builders involved,” said Wendy David, executive director of the Home Builders Association of Metropolitan Harrisburg, which organized the event.

When people come to see the finished homes in June, maybe they won’t be ready to buy one, but they might get ideas for renovations to their current home, she said. Of course, the Home-A-Rama companies are also able to do those jobs, she said.

“This is a parade of homes on steroids,” said Mike Garman, president of Garman Builders.

Home-A-Rama was also trying to capture more market share on the West Shore, where Ephrata Township headquartered Garman Builders doesn’t have as large a presence, he said.

Garman Builders’ 4,000-square-foot Aston Manor-style home has a screened porch with fireplace that opens to the home’s breakfast nook, and custom woodwork throughout, including a hidden walk-in pantry and glassed shoe cabinets in the master bedroom. The entire house is wired for remotes so owners have access to everything from the high-end audio system to high-definition televisions with the touch of a button. The home is priced at about $850,000.

“You want a house that has a lot of wow factor, but also feels comfy and like you want to live there,” Garman said.

The company didn’t build in a ton of extra green elements, mainly because the home’s standard features make it highly energy efficient to begin with, he said. And the market is not demanding those high-end green features as much as it was, he said.

“It’s a shame the economy tanked, because green was the new thing and consumers were buying it,” Garman said. “But when economy dropped, that was one of the things consumers cut out because it wasn’t as important anymore.”

Market demand is crucial in new-home sales, and this year’s Home-A-Rama is perfectly timed to get out in front of an expected housing surge in 2012, said Mike Greene, president of Cumberland County-based real estate company Homestead Group Inc., which markets the Winding Hills developments.

“Typically, homebuilders come to the market too late,” he said. “They showcase their homes in the middle of the boom.”

High-end homes — those worth more than $500,000 — are selling better than in some of the lower-price brackets and are about even with sales rates in 2009, Greene said. Lower-price markets are down about 10 percent on the West Shore and 20 percent regionally, he said.

Nationally, new-home sales for March were up 11 percent from February, the most recent data available, according the U.S. Department of Commerce. However, the 300,000 new homes sold are about 22 percent fewer than that of last year.

The drop is because of new-home tax credits that expired, Greene said. You’re not going to recoup that one-time stimulus, but upticks in sales are a positive sign and play into Home-A-Rama’s purpose, he said.

“Those buyers are going to go through a planning process, meeting with different home builders and looking at different houses,” he said.

Jim T. Ryan

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